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Tycoon Stops Traffic With April Fool “Flying Saucer″

April 1, 1989 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ British tycoon Richard Branson flew a hot-air balloon disguised as a flying saucer as an April Fool stunt on Friday and stopped suburban highway traffic in its tracks, police said.

Branson, founder of the Virgin Atlantic airline and Virgin records stores, set out at 5 a.m. in a balloon equipped with a gleaming silver casing and flashing lights, the domestic news agency Press Association said.

Branson intended to fool people into believing they saw an Unidentified Flying Object, then own up to the hoax on April 1, the agency said.

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Motorists were so intrigued by the ″spacecraft″ hovering in the skies over Surrey county, south of the capital, that they stopped for a close encounter on London’s orbital road, the M25 highway, police said.

″It was lucky a serious accident did not occur,″ Chief Inspector Andrew Neilson at Surrey police headquarters said. ″A danger was caused to motorists who stopped to look at the sky instead of the road.″

Local police lost count of the number of telephone calls they received from anxious sky-watchers, he said.

When police caught up with the balloon it had landed and was being packed away by Branson and his colleague Don Cameron, Press Association said.

It was not clear how far or how long the balloon had gone, and Surrey police declined to comment.

The news agency quoted Branson as saying: ″We were flying at 5 a.m. and there were not that many motorists about at that time. I think most people took it in good humor and I do not believe that any danger was caused. If it was, I apologize.″

″I had a friend on the flight with me and when we took off this morning, hundreds of people were emerging from their houses. At one stage police cars were in hot pursuit,″ Branson was quoted as saying.

″When we landed, three policemen with their truncheons out came creeping across the field towards us. One of them said ‘I have never been so scared in 20 years of being a policeman. It sure is good to see you, Richard’.

″They also took it in good humor, although one was annoyed when he realized he’d been had,″ Branson was quoted as saying.